THE PALE BLUE EYE l Netflix | January 6, 2023
Starring: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton, Toby Jones, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Harry Lawtey, Simon McBurney, Timothy Spall, Robert Duvall
Directed By: Scott Cooper
West Point, 1830. A world-weary detective is hired to discreetly investigate the gruesome murder of a cadet. Stymied by the cadets’ code of silence, he enlists one of their own to help unravel the case — a young man the world would come to know as Edgar Allan Poe.
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
The Pale Blue Eye is a chilling thriller adapted for the screen by director writer Scott Cooper that will keep you on your toes with lots of twists and turns, anchored by two excellent performances from Christain Bale and Harry Melling.
This film sees Bale and Cooper reunite for the third film together after 2013’s Out of the Furnace and 2017’s Hostiles, mixing whodunnit, supernatural thriller, and a fictional origin story for one of literature’s most recognizable names: Edgar Allen Poe. Set in 1830 New York, the film follows renowned Detective Augustus Landor, portrayed by Christian Bale, as he is sent to West Point Academy to investigate an apparent suicide. But upon his arrival, Landor discovers that this was not a suicide, but in fact a murder with connections to the occult. Navigating the politics of West Point and the affluent families residing in the area, Landor enlists the help of a young cadet at the academy by the name of Edgar Allen Poe to help solve a deadly case, which has greater consequences if Landor cannot locate the killer quickly.
The film is a slow burn, as the investigation moves steadily forward as Landor and Poe investigate various elements of the murder, but it is captivating right from the get go. The dread of the situation is mirrored in the haunting atmosphere of the film, while the intrigue of the occult reminds you that there is something far larger at play throughout the story. Each piece of the mystery that is revealed has new theories generating in your mind as to who the murderer is and what their agenda is, with each new character introduced positioned as a potential suspect. It is to such an extent that by the time the killer’s identity and motive is revealed, it is a true surprise that will shock you. You have an inkling of what is happening and who could be responsible, and you would be right to trust your gut. The actual reveal and explanation for the killings itself is far grander than you imagine and so well executed that your jaw will drop, leaving you questioning how you missed that reveal because it was right in front of you the entire film. Copper’s screenplay is great, never needing to rely on a flashy moment but instead spinning dialogue that will have you hanging on every line, waiting for the next reveal or clue to drop.
Bringing to life the story is a talented cast, led by the ever reliable Christian Bale. If there is one actor you can always rely on to deliver an excellent performance, it is Bale who is nothing short of outstanding in the main role. As Landon, Bale crafts an intriguing portrayal of a detective on the hunt for a killer with a tortured past. Leaving a lot unsaid at times, Bale’s performance captures the hurt of Landor’s past with each mannerism, while displaying Landor’s analytical and deductive prowess at every turn.
Opposite Bale is Harry Melling, who delivers a fantastic performance. Best known as Dudley from the Harry Potter series, Melling proves himself to be a wonderful young actor in the role of Edgar Allen Poe. It is not only the way he holds his ground opposite Bale, which creates an outstanding pairing to lead the film, but the captivating way that Melling captures the lyrical genius of Poe in his portrayal of this iconic writer. From the second you meet Poe, Melling brings a compassion to the role of this young man who does not meet the mold of the other cadets at West Point, which gives him a valuable insight that aids Landor in his search for the killer, making him even more interesting to watch than Bale.
The rest of the cast is not short of star power, featuring the likes of Robert Duval, Timothy Spall, and Toby Jones, but it is GIllian Anderson and Lucy Boynton who deliver the memorable supporting turns. Anderson is lethal in her role as Julia Marquis, the matriarch of one of the prominent families in the West Point community, being playful one scene then unleashing a dark, calculating personality the next that only she can. It will truly have you questioning whether she is a harmless, controlling house wife, or whether she knows more than she is letting on about the killing. Boyton is delightful as Anderson’s daughter Lea, acting as a rare glimmer of light in this otherwise dark story and has wonderful chemistry opposite Melling.
Bolstering the dark and ominous tone of the story is the film’s cinematography, capturing the isolation in the snow covered landscapes with cold shots evoking the darkness of the story. The costume design is very good, helping to bring to the 1830 setting with the sets. And combined with a haunting musical score from Howard Shore which captures both the inherent darkness of the internal conflict of every character, the visual and audio aspects of the film help keep the audience on edge as you move closer and closer to that shocking final act. Scott Cooper’s latest film wraps the audience with an eerie atmosphere and a dark story, led by the talented Christian Bale and Harry Melling, making The Pale Blue Eye an excellent thriller that will have you hooked until the final scene while sending chills down your spine.